Container Deposit Schemes

For almost twenty years the organisation Envision has specialised in the community waste sector. We asked Envision Manager Matthew Luxon what he thought of the recently announced research into introducing a container deposit scheme in New Zealand. Matthew specialises in the establishment and operation of community-led, resource recovery enterprises nationally. Here is what he said.

Remember the days of the old school bottle deposit, when you could take empty beverage containers to a dairy or a depot, to be recycled or reused, and you’d get a deposit for your efforts? New Zealand moved away from this system back in the ‘80s, but many countries and states around the world held on, or have since reintroduced it, resulting in impressive lifts in their bottle recycling and reuse rates, and marked reductions in the number of empty beverage containers escaping into the natural environment.

For over a decade, Envision has supported bringing this system back to New Zealand through a container deposit scheme (CDS) policy. After years of researching and considering the issue, we are yet to find an initiative that will match or exceed the 85% recycling rates we expect a mandatory, nationwide CDS will have. If we were able to identify such a scheme, we would switch to supporting and advocating for that.

We’re not the only ones convinced CDS is a great idea. At the end of 2018, The Kiwi Bottle Drive campaign delivered a petition (with over 15,000 signatures) to Parliament calling on the Government to introduce a mandatory CDS for New Zealand. The petition is now before the Environment Select Committee, who have already heard submissions from several organisations supporting a CDS, including The Kiwi Bottle Drive, The New Zealand Product Stewardship Council, Zero Waste Network Aotearoa and Greenpeace New Zealand.

Committee chairperson, Labour MP Deborah Russell, has stated that once submission hearings are over, the committee intends to produce a “really good report”. There’s reason to be optimistic that this report will recommend the Government implement a CDS. The Kiwi Bottle Drive petition has put CDS back in the spotlight at a time when public appetite to do something about waste issues is stronger than ever. Furthermore, political parties seem more open to CDS than they’ve ever been. The Green Party has officially supported CDS for years, but earlier this year, the National Party proposed making CDS party policy too. Labour and NZ First are yet to put out official positions, but have not indicated opposition.

A “really good” select committee report would certainly help advance the case for CDS in New Zealand. However, the power to make CDS happen lies with the Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, and her support for CDS remains tempered. In mid-June, Minister Sage announced that the Ministry for the Environment is looking into CDS, but reiterated that the Government would still not commit to introducing a scheme for Aotearoa.

While it’s encouraging to hear that the Ministry may be giving CDS greater attention, the reality is that we don’t need to do more investigating to prove that CDS is a good idea for New Zealand. In 2015, Envision released The InCENTive to Recycle, a thoroughly researched report laying out the case for CDS. In 2017, an independent Auckland Council-commissioned cost-benefit analysis found that the benefits of CDS would be at least double the costs, but could be as high as six times the costs.

The time has come to shift gears, give CDS the greenlight, set an implementation date, and begin designing the best scheme possible for New Zealand. Although successive Governments have dragged their heels over CDS, with mounting public interest and a growing waste crisis, this position is increasingly outdated. CDS should be a dream environmental policy for any Government - it’s both effective and relatively non-controversial, attracts high levels of public and local government support, demands little in terms of Government funding, and is backed up by screeds of overseas evidence showing that CDS:

  • reduces littering rates of beverage containers;

  • elevates recovery rates to facilitate more recycling or reuse of containers;

  • can inject money back into communities; and

  • shifts the responsibility for dealing with beverage container waste on to manufacturers and consumers of these products, rather than the public at large and the natural environment.

So, what are we waiting for? In the words of Marty Hoffart, Chairperson of the Zero Waste Network Aotearoa, “there is no good reason” that New Zealand still does not have a CDS.